First things first:
Night Terrors - Write a song about a childhood nightmare. Include significant use of rubato. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due January 29th 11:59PM)
Example: "Love Of My Life" by Queen
I'm personally pretty jazzed about the challenge, if for no other reason than we're sure to see a lot of creative responses to this call to dip into Dreamland. "Rubato" is a technical term for "stolen time", and describes the technique of varying from the strict tempo for dramatic effect. It's a technique pioneered by Frédéric Chopin. The Queen's "Love of My Life" is a fine example, moreso because you don't notice the rubato unless you're listening for it. Try to keep time by tapping along with the beat. At the point where you think you've screwed up, that's rubato. It's otherwise unnoticeable because the entire band engages in the same expression of the song.
I like the Queen example because it's so elegant and subtle, but in popular music the master of rubato was, in my opinion, Frank Sinatra. Listen to any Sinatra-sung tune and you'll hear it easily. As Nelson Riddle's orchestration keeps strict time, Sinatra weaves ahead and behind like the Moon dogging Earth in its solar orbit.
This is going to be a fun round.
A few notes about the way I judge, and these thoughts apply to me and me alone... I do not speak for any other judge. If you were around for SpinTunes 2, you'll remember that my rankings aren't necessarily sympatico with the other judges'. I view SpinTunes as a songwriting competition first and foremost... not a "battle of the bands". So I put a lot of stock in the song. As I've said before,
THE ARRANGEMENT ISN'T THE SONGYou can read more about my thoughts on that in this previous post.
THE SINGER ISN'T THE SONG
THE CHORDS AREN'T THE SONG
The "song" is lyrics + music. It can simply be the melody ("Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"), or it can be complex rhythms ("Lose Yourself"), but an instrumental piece will get you disqualified unless the challenge specifically and explicitly allows it. You must submit the lyrics with your entry.
No portion of the challenge is optional. If you fail to meet the challenge, no matter how incredibly awe-inspiring your song, you will be disqualified. It broke my heart and that of the other judges to have to disqualify Ben Walker's "When I'm A Hundred And Two". It's beautiful, it's funny, it's an exceptional song that now permanently resides on my mp3 player. I'm thrilled that he wrote it... but it didn't meet the letter of the challenge. YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST MEET THE CHALLENGE.
Often there's a "performance gap" between what a sigle person can imagine as a composer, and what he or she can produce as a performer. I always attempt to judge the song according to the intent of the composer in the best possible light. Today I've got a couple of videos that really illustrate why I do that.
Nina Paley, on her "questioncopyright" YouTube channel , made a cute little 1-minute animation to make their point. Note the simple, child-like feel of this song.
(side note: whatever your views of copyright, it is a plain statement of fact that copyright infringement is a distinctly separate thing from theft. Knowing this doesn't make copyright infringement legal, but it gets you talking proper English so you don't sound like a fool).
In true collaborative fashion, Nina had simply set out a plea to the Internet to score the animation. Nik Phelps and Connie Champagne delivered! Now here's the same video, in the same tempo, with the same song, simply given an arrangement:
I know, right?! Big difference! But it's still the same song.
It's exactly this kind of thing that makes me feel justified in taking a little extra time per song to interpret what it could sound like if the performance gap didn't exist. It also explains what's going through my head when you occasionally see me place a song with a kazoo solo in front of one performed by a semi-professional band.
That said, you'll get out of this competition what you put into it (with a little extra as a learning experience). We've got a LOT of contestants (43 of them!) and I have to critique each and every one of their entries, plus shadows, so there's a limit to the amount of time I can spend on each song. The more you give the judges to work with, the better your song is likely to fare. We don't know your mind, and can't "hear" your intent. Communicate as much of that intent to us as you can, in the lyrics, in the best arrangement and performance you can manage, and in a song biography.
I can't say I don't take the performance into account... I do. It's just not the be-all and end-all of my assessment. You lyrics count. Your melody counts. It's a total package. If it's just a really good song, and if the other judges are swayed by it, you still have a finite chance of getting through the round even if you can't play a note, but the later rounds are always harder, and the competition is always tougher. Also, there are a lot of potential challenges you might face. Some of them may be more performance-oriented than others. Consider any of the advice I'm giving here to be flexible.
One last word about song bios: I love 'em. So do the other competitors. It's nice to hear from the creator what was going through his head when he wrote a piece, or what a particularly clever bit of lyrics may refer to. Without the bio, you're going to have to just trust that we're going to pick up on those subtleties, and your's might be the 43rd song a tired pair of ears will be listening to.